Extra Bytes: 123 yrs ago, when bubonic plague led to country’s Epidemic Diseases Act

Origins of Epidemic Diseases Act

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Origins of Epidemic Diseases Act
Origins of Epidemic Diseases Act

In News:

  • Last month, the Centre amended the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, by promulgating an ordinance. The government had also invoked the Act in March itself to fight the Covid-19 outbreak.
  • The colonial-era Act empowers the state governments to take special measures and prescribe regulations in an epidemic, defines penalties for disobedience of these regulations, and provides for immunity for actions taken under the Act.
  • The Epidemic Diseases Act is routinely enforced across the country for dealing with outbreaks of diseases such as swine flu, dengue, and cholera.

Need for the act:

  • Council member J Woodburn tabled the Epidemic Diseases Bill in 1897, to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that had spread in the former Bombay Presidency.
  • Plague which had taken root in Bombay had been gradually extending to other parts of the country, and the Government felt it was necessary to take urgent measures before the disease spreads widely in other parts of the country.
  • The Bill noted that municipal bodies, cantonments and other local governments had extraordinary powers to deal with such situations but felt those were inadequate.
  • The government was also concerned that several countries were alarmed by the situation in India, and Russia had speculated that the whole subcontinent might be infected.

Provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act:

  • As per Section 2 of the Act, if a State Government is satisfied that any part of the State is threatened with an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease and if it feels that the ordinary provisions of law are inadequate to deal with it, the government may choose to invoke the said act.
  • The government may prescribe regulations for the inspection of persons travelling by railway, separation in hospitals and temporary accommodations of persons, suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected with any such disease.
  • Section 3 of the Act, provides for penalties under the Act. Any person disobeying any regulation or order shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Any offence under Section 188 is a cognizable offence.
  • Further, Section 4 of the Act gives legal protection to the implementing officers acting under the Act.

Recent amendments to the Act through the Ordinance:

  • The ordinance will cover all healthcare personnel, including ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers at the community level. The amendments will also apply to harassment by landlords and neighbors.
  • The Ordinance makes acts of violence against healthcare professionals a cognizable and non-bailable offence and also provides for compensation for injury to healthcare personnel or for damage or loss to property.
  • If the injuries inflicted are not serious, the jail term may range from three months to five years, and the fine from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh. In case of serious injuries, the jail term may range from six months to seven years, and the fine from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.
  • In case properties of health workers, including their ambulances, are damaged, the attackers will have to pay twice the market price of such assets.
  • Offences shall be investigated by an officer of the rank of Inspector within a period of 30 days, and trial has to be completed in one year, unless extended by the court for reasons to be recorded in writing.

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